Friday, March 19, 2010


As I get a little older my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Today Steve put bananas in my corn flakes, and I knew it and wanted it, but as I was eating I got startled...I thought there was a SCALLOP in my cereal. We both looked in the bowl, and then I remembered, oh yeah, you put bananas in. Oy vay

Lee R.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When Campus Food Just Won’t Cut It

It's easy to miss Pete's New Haven Style Apizza (pronounced, as the menu will tell you, "ah-beets"). Located on the ground floor of a shiny new apartment complex in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, the twenty-foot high glass doors look like an entrance for a law firm or high-end cosmetics shop, not a pizza joint. A small clapboard sign advertises Pete's lunch specials, and directs travelers to take a left turn out of the Metrorail station just twenty-five feet away to enjoy two slices of cheese pizza for the bargain price of $5.99.

Just five years ago, Columbia Heights would have been an unlikely location for an upscale pizza restaurant. The neighborhood, at the intersection of 14th and Irving streets in north DC, had long been the location of low-income apartments and high crime. However, an urban development company decided that Columbia Heights would be a prime location for a gigantic big-box retail complex called DC USA--thus starting the gentrification of the area. As soon as the Target, Best Buy, and other stores opened within DC USA, commuters from across the city flocked to the new complex, overwhelming the neighborhood's previously underutilized Metrorail station and causing traffic jams up and down 14th Street. Before long, new apartment complexes were being built, and Columbia Heights (or at least three blocks of it) was suddenly Northwest DC's hottest community.

Columbia Heights' gentrification is somewhat unsettling. Take the H4 bus towards Brookland station and you'll see what I mean: you'll pass through the upper-middle class area of Cleveland Park, and though the Salvadorean community of Mount Pleasant, with its bodegas and carry-out restaurants. Suddenly, for several blocks, the brick and concrete changes to the glass and metal of new urban construction. The homeless seem equally confused by this shift, begging for quarters at the top of the Metrorail station, shoppers rushing this way and that. And in the midst of this confusion, so sits Pete's New Haven Style Apizza like a Chuck E. Cheese in the middle of the Sahara.

Urban planning aside, Pete's serves up some of the best pizza and sandwiches in DC. A tiny restaurant with maybe thirty-five seats, Pete's sells pizzas by the slice for the reasonable sum of $3 or so, and full pizzas that can reach upwards of $30. It's a popular spot for young professionals on weekends, and it's often tough to find a seat. Pete's is a neighborhood pizza joint that would feel more at home downtown than it would in Columbia Heights, but I'm happy to take advantage of it's location for a "Little Pete" panino sandwich.

I first ordered the "Little Pete" on a Thursday afternoon in October. Exhausted by class, I wanted something tasty--not the soggy pizza or flavorless dishes available at my campus dining hall. I had been to Pete's once before, and had ordered some serviceable pizza that didn't quite fill me up for the $3 per slice I had paid. Almost all reviews of Pete's, however, had mentioned the panini, so upon exiting the bus at 14th and Irving, I decided to order the "Little Pete" for the reasonable sum of $8.80, tax included.

The "Little Pete" marries fried Italian eggplant, a sundried tomato pesto, broccoli rabe, and Rossellino cheese pressed into two gloriously thick slices of garlicky bread. It's served with a side salad of lettuce and dressing--which, when warmed by the sandwich, creates an interesting diversion from the main event. With my first bite, I was hooked...this was the sandwich I had been looking for! It was cheap, filling, delicious, and a welcome break from delivery or on-campus food. "I just ate my best food item of the semester," I later posted on Facebook.

Whenever I crave a feel-good meal, I still head over to Pete's Apizza in the wonderfully confusing neighborhood of Columbia Heights. It's not perfect: often too crowded and priced a little above average. Yet the "Little Pete" is worth it, and it may stick with me as one of my best food memories from my college years.

Mike W.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Christmas Cookies

I guess most of my food memories revolve around holidays and family gatherings…Christmas dinners, Thanksgiving feasts, Fourth of July parties at the lake with my cousins in South Dakota, the first Easter ham dinner I made for all my friends at college. But I’d have to say my fondest memories of my youth are of our whole family, sitting around our kitchen table a week or so before Christmas, decorating cut out cookies. With colored icing, sugars and non-perils we used small paintbrushes and toothpicks to “paint” and decorate the cookies. It would take hours. My German father excelled at very detailed decorations and every year the three of us kids would try to match his style. He too had fond memories of decorating Christmas cookies as a child growing up on a small farm in North Dakota, where having cookies was sometimes their only Christmas presents. The recipe my mother used for these cookies was a butter cookie recipe she was given by a college friend who had received it from her grandmother. They were thin and very fragile, very difficult to role out and cut and bake without burning (the only time I heard my mother curse was when she made these cookies). However they are extremely yummy cookies so part of the fun in decorating was to “accidentally” break a cookie so “it just had to be eaten right away.” The resulting collection of decorated cookies was a work of art in our opinions and I remember crying one year when my mother served the cookies to guests without consulting us. I wanted to save my special cookies for myself! I’ve continued the tradition with our family and now I’m the one who curses every year making dozens of “Grandma’s Butter Crisps” and my girls create amazing works of art. I’ve included my neighbor’s and friends’ children so that it’s become the annual “Vicki’s Cookie Party” holiday event…And every single year, as I sit down and decorate a handful of cookies, I remember the happiness and love I felt as our family decorated together and the pure, innocent joy my father passed on to all of us through this tradition.

Vicki T.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cake Genealogy

I am very interested in our family genealogy. What makes it fascinating to me is not just the family tree, or the stories that go with the individuals, but the recipes that have been passed down through the generations. These recipes have the ability to conjure up the best memories and visions of my childhood. I have since copied recipes into a file onto my computer, but I keep the originals, handwritten, given to me by my mother, my grandmothers, stained index cards, cookbooks with special notes written in them, scraps of paper, because even those bring strong memories of the people who made them.

In my family there are a lot of good cooks and a lot of recipes. The food stories could fill volumes. But this is about just one of our all time favorites, my grandmother’s sour cream chocolate cake. My grandmother was the first to bake this luscious cake. My mother took this recipe when she was married, and as far back as I can remember, this was the official birthday cake in our family. It has changed over the years; cream soured with vinegar from my grandmother, store bought sour cream from my mother, and when I returned from cooking school, I got more creative with each celebratory cake I made, substituting buttermilk and yogurt for the sour cream, changing types of flours, different sugars. Now, I’ve gone back to my mother’s recipe. My kids began helping me to bake the sour cream chocolate cake when they were 2. It was messy work, but someone had to lick the bowl. Now my son and daughter make my birthday cake, together, fighting over who licks the spatula or bowl, just like I did with my brother and sister. I share chocolate cake stories with them like my favorite dog nibbling on my wedding cake, or carrying cakes across the country on airplanes, making the cake for the family I lived with in France. My kids now are old enough to come to a yearly neighborhood party near my mother’s and they continue the tradition of bringing the chocolate cake that I have been doing every year for 20 years. They know if there isn’t sour cream, vinegar and milk will work just as well. And, the recipe they use now when they bake the cake is spotted with chocolate covered with my notes on all my variations. I could print out a clean sheet, but where are the memories in that?

Judy K.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Grandmother

I must have been about 6 years old when my maternal grandmother died. The most vivid memory that I have is of visiting her house with my mother and sister very shortly after we learned of her passing. In the kitchen, on a platter, was the last batch of rice knishes that my grandmother had baked. My mother approached the counter as if gold was sitting on top of it. With tears in her eyes she gave each of us a rice knish, and took a third for herself. We ate them very slowly and without saying a word. No words were needed. The message to me was very clear: Homemade food equals love.

Terry S.